“That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ…” (Philippians 1:10)
I once heard someone say, “Excellence of ministry they have, but excellence of spirit, they have not!” This has stuck with me over the years, but it also brings us to ask, what does God consider excellence?
The Pharisees were a people of “excellence;” they paid their tithes and gave offerings; they wore fine clothes and did all the right things. They were meticulous and upstanding members of their communities; they were the ones in leadership positions, and kept the commandments of the law blameless. Many of them were wealthy businessmen, and of excellent reputation among those of power and influence. But yet, with all of these things, they were deficient in the eyes of God (Matthew 5:20), and Jesus called them hypocrites, children of the devil, a generation of vipers. (Matthew 23:33, John 8:44)
He rebuked them vehemently, but when John the Baptist came out of the wilderness wearing camel skin and eating bugs, Jesus said of him that there was no greater prophet in all of the Old Testament (Mark 1:6, Luke 7:24-28).
What made the Pharisees so debased in the eyes of God? They would be considered righteous by most of us today, and John the Baptist would have been considered unkempt and extreme. Most of us would not have given him the time of day; we would say of him, “Who sent you?” “What famous minister do you know?” “What church do you belong to?” “By whose authority do you speak?” (Matthew 21:23)
My friend, where do we set the standard?
In order to understand what excellence is, we may first understand what it is not. Many of the things that are important to us as men, are repulsive to God, or are simply not high on His priority list. For one, excellence is not “busy-ness.” I saw a bumper sticker once that said, “Jesus is coming, look busy!” You may laugh, but this is what many of us are doing. In being “busy,” we can miss the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to our hearts, and we can miss His will.
Another counterfeit of excellence is perfection; we can spend so much time worrying about the details that we can miss God in the middle of it. God isn’t looking for perfection; He is looking for our hearts, and obedience (I Samuel 15:22).
The Pharisees missed the time of their visitation because they discerned not the excellence that was in their midst. They were expecting the King of the ages to come in royal apparel, and to fit their definition of royalty, and they were offended by a group of men that would not even wash their hands before they ate (Matthew 15:2).
The Pharisees were high-minded and critical; they were wrapped up in position and appearance, but neglected the weightier matters of the law, which were judgment, mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23). They had no power or relationship with God, and in fact, were offended by those that God had sent.
Esther had an excellent spirit, and when she was in the king’s court, she was content with what she had, and demanded nothing of the king. She was not there to impress him with a vast array of Jewelry and perfume, but rather a quiet and gentle spirit; the King recognized this quality in her, and it drew his heart (Esther 2:15, 17, I Peter 3:4). It was in sharp contrast to the incessant demands of the previous queen, and no doubt the majority of his concubines.
David killed Goliath with a sling and a stone because he had an excellent spirit within him. He brought God his best (I Samuel 17:39-40), and God used it to do what no other man in Israel could do.
What does God require of us? (Micah 6:6-8)
God spoke to me last year and said, “I only want your best, not the best!” That is what He is looking for; God will make up the difference with grace (Romans 4:16). He will transform and empower our best to move mountains and to slay giants.
When the widow brought her two mites and dropped them in the offering plate, Jesus said, “She has given more than they all.” Why? Because she gave her best, while the Pharisees were too busy competing with one another (Mark 12:41-44).
If God has told us to do something, He is only requiring us to bring our best in obedience to Him. If God wanted man’s “expertise,” He would call on those that are mighty and noble to do the job; but this is not what he has done, for He has called you and me (I Corinthians 1:26-29).